Paris, 27th January 2012
ARCEP would like to remind users that launching a new mobile telephone network is a complex operation that can require adjustments and fine tuning. These are legitimate provided the operator has met its coverage obligations, and provided they do not alter the service that customers receive.
Here, ARCEP also offers a reminder that the coverage obligations listed in the 3G licences issued to Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom in 2001 and 2002, respectively - to be achieved within two years of obtaining those licences - were not met and that if ARCEP tolerated that state of affairs at the time, it was because of the technical and economic difficulties cited by the operators themselves.
Under the terms of the licence it was awarded, Free Mobile was required to have achieved coverage of 27% of the population of France with its own network by 12th January 2012. This obligation excludes roaming with another mobile operator's network.
On 10th November 2011, Free Mobile informed ARCEP that it had achieved this first coverage obligation for its 3G network.
ARCEP then made a careful check of the information supplied by Free Mobile:
- the accuracy of the 3G coverage map supplied by the operator was verified through a campaign of more than 10,000 field measurements performed in November and December 2011;
- the rate of coverage achieved, as depicted on the 3G coverage map supplied by Free Mobile and verified as described above, was calculated using a database of the population geolocated at the building level.
This verification method is strictly identical to the one used, under the same circumstances, for the other operators.
In a press release issued on 13th December 2011, ARCEP stated that the verifications it performed allowed it to ascertain that Free Mobile had indeed met the 3G coverage obligations set for 12th January 2012.
On 10th January 2012, Free Mobile launched its mobile service commercially. The service is available in mainland France, on the one hand through Free Mobile's own 3G network and, on the other, a roaming access solution that Free Mobile purchases from Orange.
Following this launch, a number of articles in the press have reported that the operator might have shut down some of its towers.
In a letter dated 26th January, the CFE-CFG and UNSA telecom operator trade union federations requested that ARCEP carry out an investigation into Free Mobile's compliance with its 3G network rollout obligations, in accordance with the terms of its licence.
No operator has appealed to ARCEP as yet, however, and no concrete element has been brought to the Authority's attention that would back up the allegations in the media, and repeated in the letter from the trade unions.
Nevertheless, for the sake of transparency and peace of mind, ARCEP decided it would be useful to ask Free Mobile to provide an updated version of the information on the status of its network, including the list of installed towers and those that have been activated, and the reasons for shutting off some of the towers in its network, should this indeed be the case. ARCEP will examine this information with the utmost care.
Taking the supplied elements into consideration, ARCEP will then perform verifications in the field using the same method as the one employed for previous checks, and the results will be made public.
ARCEP also wanted to inform the Minister responsible for Industry, Energy and the Digital Economy that it thought it advisable - both in general and as part of the recent request for increased cooperation between ARCEP and ANFR (the national frequency agency, operating under the aegis of the ministry) - that ANFR technical resources be employed to facilitate ARCEP's verifications of mobile operators' network coverage.
Lastly, on the matter of the terms of the roaming solutions that Orange France provides to Free Mobile, ARCEP reminds the public that they are governed exclusively by contractual relations between these two undertakings.